"So in your story I die?"
The voice blew softly over my neck and I turned in my chair. James straightened up from where he had been leaning over my chair to read over my shoulder as I wrote. I pulled the final page carefully from the typewriter so as not to smudge the fresh ink with my fingers. The morning sun streaming in through the bay windows of the small study curled in his hair, his pink suit blended in with the morning sky, molding him into the apparition of a young god, a young Zephiros. He smiled at me, that more than understanding smile that always struck me, a smile that teased me but did not reproach me for my writing choices.
"I shall name my story after you if you like."
James laughed. "Please do. I dare say I have few enough things named after me. Have I told you-?"
"You have," I interrupted. "But if you must, I shan't stop you from telling me again."
James smiled again and strolled to the window, from there to admire the sun shining off the ocean. He stood before it as if the glare of sunlight off water were no more irritating to him than a fly or the stern rumor of a bad reputation. James had always been resistant to rumors: when confronted with one personally it took nothing more than a brush of his hand and an easy smile to turn that heavy dark cloud into nothing more than morning vapors dispersing in the sun. His shadow fell across my writing desk, wreathing me in darkness. I was used to being the second most interesting person in the room. After all, it was only to people who met James, to James himself I was more than interesting. I couldn't stand staring into the glare. I shuffled the final page of my novel into its place, tapped the edges on the desk, and set it down before the typewriter. The blank page where the title should be gleamed in the rosy morning light.
James bent to reach for the pitcher on a side table and proceeded to pour himself some clear iced lemon water into the glass that I had been drinking from when I had needed to take a break from writing. I had been up writing the last chapter since the early morning when the stars hung still in the sky, party lights in a black garden that brought up memories. The faint lights of boats out on the ocean had faded as the sun had risen.
Glass in hand, James strolled to stand beside me with his easy gait. He fondly smoothed the top page of the manuscript, then looked up at me, his fingers tapping as if to title it by force of will. I covered his hand in my own.
"What will you name it?"
I looked at my neat stack of words, then to our clasped hands, and finally into James' eyes. "I don't know."
"Hum," James sucked on a piece of ice. He crunched it between his teeth. "Well I'm sure you'll think of something, old sport."
"Why not Old Sport, then?"
James laughed and took another sip of lemon water before passing the glass off to me. "I thought you were going to name this book after me."
"Am I really that old to you?"
"You call me 'old sport' all the time. Practically from the day we met."
"Ah, well, I am tactless sometimes."
I straightened the collar of his shirt. He took my fingers and kissed them politely. "I shall try my very hardest not to call you that again, if you wish it, Nick."
"I hardly mind."
James nodded solemnly. His eyes traced the horizon, searching, as he always had been, for Atlantis. I touched his cheek and he turned to me, still lost as he always was, but as bright as I had always known him.
"You don't have to search any more."
James sighed. "And yet I always am, aren't I?"
He looked so sad. A timestamped sadness, worn through with age. We were not so old, but James carried his years close, tied up in boxes with twine and lead to keep them in perfect condition. They say that in eyes you can see the human soul, for it is with eyes that God watches over us all. James' irises were sienna with close cropped eyelashes. Always searching.
"Jay," I whispered. He slipped the glass from my hand and raised it to his lips, but didn't drink. Then he set the glass back on the little round side table and sighed.
"What am I really, Nick? A man with dreams of greatness, a greatness that he tries to show the world and in the showing finds that it is nothing but ribbons, and pearls, and nothing of great consequence in the grand scheme of things."
Again his eyes searched the horizon, looking for that place in the pages of time where he could slip the bookmark of his soul. To find the place where his words would be held as more than the inflating of a bloated ego. I pressed his hand between the two of mine to bring him back.
"Ah Nick, what am I?" he moaned despairingly. "Am I even a man or am I less than the dream of what I picture the world could be? A world full of color, and music, and dancing, and lights."
"Believe me," I told him, "you have made the world full of color, and music, and dancing, and lights. You were a sensation!"
"I was," he said dejectedly.
"Jay," I consoled him, "you are still a marvel. You fill my world with light each day."
He looked at me again with those sad eyes, filled to the brim with tears of love and loss and dreams unfulfilled. "I am nothing like you, Nick. You are truly a creator, a man who history will remember." He picked up my manuscript and pressed it to my chest. "You have set your dreams in motion, while mine will always remain slumbering."
I opened my mouth to object, but he silenced me with a smile and turned to face the window again. "And who's to say you have not made a mark?" I burst out. He turned to face me again. "Jay, without you, this story wouldn't exist! Your dreams may not be actualized, but here, in these pages, you are that man you have always dreamt of being! Your will be remembered in my words as the man who you are: the great Gatsby!"
James' expression turned to one of interest and excitement. "That is it, Nick!"
He clutched my arms, and I clutched my story to my chest. "What is it?"
"The title!" he exclaimed, almost giddy with joy. "The title of your book!"
"The Great Gatsby."
I let out a laugh of joy. It was perfect. James embraced me, lifted me, and spun me. My pages were sandwiched between us. When he was as dizzy as I, he set me back on my feet and kissed my lips. His smile dazzled me when he pulled away, and the light from the sunrise was a brighter, beautiful peach.
"Will you let me...?" he asked breathlessly, holding out his hands as if I was to bestow upon them a saintly gift. I placed the manuscript in his hands and he carried it reverently to the my writing table, setting it down with utmost care. He checked the orientation of the writing, and, after making sure it was right way up, grabbed a pen and in his large loopy writing christened the story with its proper title: The Great Gatsby.
He looked up at me, and it was one of those instants that, though small, one can always remember with perfect acuity. The way the warm sunlight lit up the pages to a blinding radiance, the gleam of his smile, the vibrant pink of his suit, and the look in his eyes, of a man who has found a place that is neither what he expected nor what he dreamed but in its own way is both. He extended the pen to me. "Sign it."
"You're the author. Sign it."
I took the pen from his hand and approached the table. He wrapped his arms around me, his warm breath trembling the excited hairs on my neck. I leaned over the page and, below his signature, added by own:
by Nick Carraway.